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Thread: Solitary retreat

  1. #1

    Solitary retreat

    Hi, all.

    A while back I read 100 Days of Solitude by Jane Dobisz (a teacher in the Kwan Um tradition of Zen). I am planning to do a 3-day Soto version of that and am in the process of putting together a daily schedule.

    Has anyone here done a solitary retreat? If so, what things (beyond the obvious zazen, kinhin, and samu) did you include in your daily practice?
    If not, what do you think I should do?

    Baby steps . . .

    Thanks,
    Bill

  2. #2
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Solitary retreat

    I did a week-long solitary retreat in Nova Scotia last summer (Why Nova Scotia? Why not? :lol, which ended up being a weird mix of sight-seeing vacation and intensive zazen retreat, which actually worked better than it might sound like it did.

    The great thing about a solitary retreat... is that it's solitary. No need to bother with stuff just 'cause it's what's traditional. I completely threw kinhin out the window--if I needed to get some circulation going, I just did some yoga and stretching instead, which I prefer. Another nice thing about being on your own is that if something becomes excruciatingly painful, you can just stretch or adjust your posture without worrying about getting yelled at by the monitor or disturbing others, and just return to zazen after a quick stretch instead of sitting there gritting your teeth like some sort of macho cowboy (unless that's your thing 8)).

    I also let my sitting periods vary somewhat. Thirty minutes was the benchmark, a couple sessions may have been between twenty and thirty, a few went longer, up to an hour. When I was really in it, I would often pause just long enough between periods to rub my legs or stretch before beginning another period. Sometimes I would barely pause at all between 30-minute sittings during a two hour stretch.

    Did about six hours of zazen a day, also took several hours each day to go out in nature and hike, or kayak, etc. It was very nice to do that stuff in the context of a zazen retreat... each complemented each other, as I took what I was doing on the cushion out into the world every day, and often ran into excellent tests of patience and equanimity (having to find out-of-the-way places in a strange land in one's currently-having-issues car definitely pulls your head out of your navel :shock.

    And nature in its sublime way can deepen the silence... the ocean especially. I'd highly recommend the odd nature walk or solitary excursion, unless you are aiming to cultivate a very deep samadhi that would be negatively impacted by anything other than being as quiet and still as possible for as long as possible. Which is a heretical practice here, anyway, so shhhh :wink:

    Cooking for myself became a big part of the retreat and was an excellent sort of "samu" and caretaking practice. There is something about cooking that I find stills a restless mind, and it is also a nice way of extending kindness to oneself, by taking the time to care for oneself properly. It is also a nice way to get the right brain going with some creativity. I also made a major Zen no-no by listening to music (Beethoven, not Guns 'N' Roses, mind you :lol sometimes while I prepared a meal. Everything feels so much richer in that space of silence on solitary retreat, and music emerges from it like a wonderment from another dimension.

    Another thing I did that's a no-no where I've done sesshin in a group setting was some contemplative reading. Mostly Dogen, actually. The Shobogenzo makes a lot more sense when you're reading it in the context of a silent retreat! :idea: I had a lovely moment with Dogen on the beach one day that has stuck with me. And doing some targeted reading when running into difficulties while sitting led to some insights that have made a lasting, positive impact on my practice. I really got the knack of "turning the light of the mind inward" on that retreat.

  3. #3
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Though I will say that planning a schedule in advance is an excellent idea. I ended up diverging from mine a bit to accommodate my various excursions, but having that basic blueprint to work from really helped keep things from descending into chaos.

  4. #4

    Re: Solitary retreat

    I did one last year. I started at Friday lunchtime to Sunday lunchtime. I just sat in my own apartment and switched off the TV and phones and the radio (and no computer, the most difficult) and didn't allow myself any reading material. That might not work for you with your family. I just did periods of zazen and sitting meditation until bedtime, around 11 p.m.. I didn't get up all that early and didn't start until 10 a.m. on the Saturday. One thing I noticed is that it's harder to discipline yourself when you're on your own. The evening sitting was the hardest and longest. It might work better if you could get one or two others to sit in the Mebeam zendo with you. Just knowing someone else is doing the same thing would be encouraging, I think,

    Gassho,
    John

  5. #5
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Solitary retreat

    I don't know if I'd have the self-discipline to have a focused solitary retreat in my own apartment... :!:

  6. #6

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Hi,

    Perhaps in combination with the Jukai, we will be doing an online "Sesshin" of perhaps 3 days/nights, which will have aspects of a solitary retreat to be done "in our apartments" or anywhere else there is computer access (if you can get a computer in Nova Scotia, do it there!).

    It will be much like the solitary retreat that we are discussing here, and that Bill is planning. But we will also be sitting Zazen, eating Oryoki and working together online. As always, it will be done live ... but also recorded for folks with jobs and such to sit when they can.

    All you will need to do is lock yourself in a room in your apartment, set your browser to "Treeleaf", promise to not websurf or check email otherwise, and unplug the phone! You will be allowed bathroom breaks and simple meals :wink:

    Look for that later this year. I hope to make it a regular activity, a few times a year around here.

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Custom retreats...

    During my early dharma-honeymoon I was quite impressed by this remarkable lady (wrong totally heretical obscure non-zen cult) who spent twelve years – partly in full retrat – in a small cave in the North Indian Himalayas, sleeping upright in a small box that doubled as a zabuton. She'd probably still be there if some official hadn't noticed her expired visa. Talk about bodhicitta.

    In her biography she wrote that during a snow storm of several days her cave got buried under ten or so meters of snow. Luckily, her cave-door opens to the inside, which allowed her to grab a pan and dig through the wall of ice that had built up in front of it.

    Contrary to Stephanie I absolutely love Kinhin. Since my solitary vacation trips look like spiritual retreats already, and my practice was a bit unstable lately, I decided to go all the way (pun intended) and do a several hundred kilometers backpack kinhin (plus at least an hour of zazen every day) in the solitude and the heat of the Cevennes, Southern France, leaving on saturday.

    Left foot, right foot, right stick, left stick, pelvis flexible, spine straight, watch the ground, place the foot, feel the weight – marching forever, calmly, like a camel...

    Sorry, I got carried away. :wink:

    Gassho,
    Mensch

  8. #8

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Quote Originally Posted by Mensch
    Custom retreats...

    Since my solitary vacation trips look like spiritual retreats already, and my practice was a bit unstable lately, I decided to go all the way (pun intended) and do a several hundred kilometers backpack kinhin (plus at least an hour of zazen every day) in the solitude and the heat of the Cevennes, Southern France, leaving on saturday.

    Left foot, right foot, right stick, left stick, pelvis flexible, spine straight, watch the ground, place the foot, feel the weight – marching forever, calmly, like a camel...

    Sorry, I got carried away. :wink:

    Gassho,
    Mensch
    Cool . . . sounds great, Mensch. Happy walking.

    Quote Originally Posted by John
    I did one last year. I started at Friday lunchtime to Sunday lunchtime. I just sat in my own apartment and switched off the TV and phones and the radio (and no computer, the most difficult) and didn't allow myself any reading material. That might not work for you with your family.
    Hi, John. Yes, I think it would be difficult in a house of five to get the isolation that is needed.

    One thing I noticed is that it's harder to discipline yourself when you're on your own. The evening sitting was the hardest and longest. It might work better if you could get one or two others to sit in the Mebeam zendo with you. Just knowing someone else is doing the same thing would be encouraging, I think,

    Gassho,
    John
    The discipline thing may not be as big an issue for me as resistance. I can usually follow-through action-wise on even the most arduous task, but I am often in a pissy mood doing it because I resist things mentally sometimes. As far as the Mebeam thing, I don't think the hermitage I booked even has internet/TV/etc. I wanted to get out in the mountains a bit to let some things settle.

    Stephanie wrote:
    I'd highly recommend the odd nature walk or solitary excursion, unless you are aiming to cultivate a very deep samadhi that would be negatively impacted by anything other than being as quiet and still as possible for as long as possible. Which is a heretical practice here, anyway, so shhhh

    Cooking for myself became a big part of the retreat and was an excellent sort of "samu" and caretaking practice. There is something about cooking that I find stills a restless mind, and it is also a nice way of extending kindness to oneself, by taking the time to care for oneself properly.
    Hi, Stephanie. I am planning to make a 1 hour walk in the forest a part of each day's schedule. I am making a clear schedule before I get there so that I will be less likely to let my laziness dictate what I do next. I hope to simply move on to the next activity when it is time; no choice, no decision. We'll see if I can live up to that.
    I will have to cook for myself too. I'm thinking of taking lots of easy/simple/raw foods. Fruits, veggies, rice, etc., things that are easy to cook and easy on the body.

    I'm still thinking about whether or not to take anything to read. I'm afraid it will turn into a thing that I look forward to to escape the reality of the retreat.

    Thanks for the responses . . .

    Later, and gassho,
    Bill

  9. #9

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow

    I'm still thinking about whether or not to take anything to read. I'm afraid it will turn into a thing that I look forward to to escape the reality of the retreat.
    Reading is frowned upon at the sesshins I attended. Since you get Dharma talks at sesshins, I thought it ok to listen to some pre-recorded ones when I did my solitary rereat. Talks that were recorded at sesshins, like Joko Beck's, are preferable, I think, for encouragement,

    Gassho,
    John

  10. #10

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Quote Originally Posted by John
    Since you get Dharma talks at sesshins, I thought it ok to listen to some pre-recorded ones when I did my solitary rereat. Talks that were recorded at sesshins, like Joko Beck's, are preferable, I think, for encouragement,

    Gassho,
    John
    Good idea, John . . . I'll see what I can come up with.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  11. #11
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    Hi, Stephanie. I am planning to make a 1 hour walk in the forest a part of each day's schedule. I am making a clear schedule before I get there so that I will be less likely to let my laziness dictate what I do next. I hope to simply move on to the next activity when it is time; no choice, no decision. We'll see if I can live up to that.
    I will have to cook for myself too. I'm thinking of taking lots of easy/simple/raw foods. Fruits, veggies, rice, etc., things that are easy to cook and easy on the body.

    I'm still thinking about whether or not to take anything to read. I'm afraid it will turn into a thing that I look forward to to escape the reality of the retreat.

    Thanks for the responses . . .

    Later, and gassho,
    Bill
    Bill,

    That sounds great.

    Do you mind saying where you're doing your retreat? And/or how you found it? I actually had been thinking about doing one this summer, but had the hardest time trying to find a decent hermitage or cabin that was appropriate for the task.

    As for books, I think it depends on how and when you read, and what you're reading. I found it eminently useful to bring books about zazen / meditation for reference when I hit a "snag" (given you won't have a teacher to ask!). And Dogen is great when you're on retreat -- he makes a lot more sense then than at other times :mrgreen:

    gassho,

    Stephanie

  12. #12

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Hi, Stephanie.

    I was raised Episcopalian so I called St. Mary's retreat center in Sewanee, TN. They have a hermitage there. Just a small cabin in 200 acres of forest . . . but it does have A/C!! Rates are reasonable. They were very nice and, in typical Episcopalian fashion, asked nothing about my faith or what I would be doing. They seemed truly glad to help with whatever sort of spiritual seeking one wanted to do.

    Later,
    Bill

    PS--There's also Southern Dharma in Hot Springs, NC but I've never been there.

  13. #13

    Re: Solitary retreat

    i'm in the middle of one now, and treeleaf has made it that i am slacking off less, if that means anything -- i'm using the time of my wife's absence, til this friday, but it's so easy to come up with bullcrap reasons to avoid sitting -- thats what prompted me to google "online sitting", and get treeleaf -- i like this way -- i'm sure i would have been sailing by now otherwise(yeah, i'm doing sailing meditation, followed by beer meditation..."

    my early retreats were great/terrible -- because dhiravamsa was with you the whole time, so you just kept going, way past where you would've stopped otherwise -- but all my retreats at ims have turned out to be solitary, for several reasons -- its possible to use a place like ims to do a self-retreat, with their permission -- during my 2-month retreat at their forest refuge, all that was required was to check in with the resident teacher once/week for 15minutes -- i would've preferred "as-needed" -- and i skipped the dharma talks, mostly sat in my room -- if i read too many books, or listen to too many dharma talks, not so good -- it seems like entertainment, avoiding working

    as a work retreatant, i spoke to my supervisor once in the beginnig, and maybe a couple of sentences more later -- everything else was written notes, and only a few -- i could practice whatever i wanted, as long as i wasn't disruptive, and was really practicing, not lying around -- it is the only place i've found where i could do that, for free -- would've gone to rochester zen, but they wanted cash, in addition to working -- after child support, there isn't much left

    nitey nite, bob

  14. #14

    Re: Solitary retreat

    It was nice to have you join us. I am sorry the recorded version is slow to start (it does if you wait like 5 minutes) on the Leaf Blog ...

    http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2008/07 ... enkai.html

    And for you folks who missed it but can join us Saturday (and since I do not play favorites), we will repeat the whole thing LIVE on Saturday when Will joins us. He is visiting Japan from China for a few weeks, and will be stopping into Treeleaf Tsukuba from time to time. So, look forward to our Saturday (10:00 pm till midnight) WILL-ZENKAI!!

    Gassho, Jundo

  15. #15

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Hi.
    "I" find "myself" being on a "constant solitary retreat", "alone together with buddhas", "sitting" in the "no-lotus stance".

    May the force be with you
    Tb

  16. #16

    Re: Solitary retreat

    How's this for a solitary retreat?

    …..Grateful to have returned to his interrupted monkhood and discipleship, and for the freedom to devote himself full time to spiritual life, Sheng-yen pursued his spiritual practice with great intensity. On his own initiative, he eventually decided to begin a three-year solitary retreat high in the mountains of Taiwan. Living in a small cliff-top hut with no running water or electricity and subsisting on wild potato leaves that he grew himself in his backyard, he worked to uproot the deep vexations of his own mind, to bring the full power of the Buddhist dharma to bear upon his attachment to the ego. Beginning with a half-year of prostrations (doing one for each of the almost 80,000 characters in the Lotus Sutra) he then concentrated on sitting meditation and, in his spare time, wrote and completed two books on the Buddhist teachings. Three years later, feeling at home in the quiet calm of solitary practice but convinced that his efforts to cultivate freedom from "greed, anger, arrogance and ignorance" were still incomplete, he decided to double the time of his retreat, extending to a total of six years this period of seclusion, contemplation, practice and study….
    http://www.wie.org/j17/sheng.asp

    It kinda makes my little bit of discomfort in my last 5 day sesshin sound a bit puny

    Gassho,
    John

  17. #17

    Re: Solitary retreat

    Has anyone seen the movie "amongst white clouds"?
    Its about monks living in solitary in in china, its quite good.

    I think it is downloadable for free somewhere, but i can only find ones that has to be purchased...

    May the force be with you
    Tb

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